A Full May

It has been a full May of 世俗之事 or sentient world matters.

The financial markets have been more than volatile across all market classes, lurching from one headlined news to the next. Whether this is a harbinger of a real sea-change in longer-term market direction or not, it has certainly provided more opportunities for the shorter-term trader; in terms of action at least but not necessarily for his overall bottomline.

Apart from the increased opportunities/dangers offered by the markets, this May has also seen it’s share of ‘sentient world matters’, from global affairs to regional events, from national figures to more personal family matters:

-The death of an elder in the extended family, in the same week as the passing of a monumental elder statesman and stalwart of the Old Guard leadership of this island-nation (who is regarded as the architect and prime mover of almost everything held to be now excellent in this modern city of Spore, lieutenant only to the dear old PM but whom even LKY himself deferred to);
-A possible rare misslip in official communication regarding mother-tongue language examination standards leading to an unexpected groundswell of sentiment and rather heated public debate on language matters, between mother-tongue/Chinese and English;
-The continuing oil ‘spill’ half a world away (now acknowledged to be an unprecedented oil leak disaster), to a much smaller but no less distressing oil spill and sludge drudge in home waters (and almost on my doorstep);
-And quite possibly the most heightened political and military tensions in East Asia for the last few decades, together with what seems to be a total misreading of the real issues motivations stakeholders involved, beyond the functionary Six-Party Talks
(the crux and most important Power-Structure at question here, may lie not with the affiliated contention between the superpower and superpower-to-be, but the most common power-structure hierachy of all time — the Laius/Oedipus father/son legacy struggle;
plus the most appropriate historical framing of the current geo-political circumstances may need to reach back more than a thousand years to find a similar precedent, in this most turbulent land of 东北/Northeast Asia/Manchuria and korean peninsula).

A very full May, indeed.


菜根譚 Vegetable Roots Discourse: Books and reading

Following from previously on books and reading, here’s to:
‘chewing well on that true taste, which lies within the vegetable root.’


The person who reads books carefully
Should read until “his hands dance and his feet stamp”*;
Then, from the first, he will not fall “into net and snares.”**

The person who perceives things well
Should look until his mind merges and his spirit softens;
Then, from the first, the outward traces will not be muddied.


Men understand how to read books that have words,
But do not understand how to read those that lack them.
They know how to pluck the lute that has strings,
But do not know how to play the one that has none.
Caught by the form, but untouched by the spirit:
How will they get at the heart of either music or literature?

— 菜根譚 Vegetable Roots Discourse:


“When an emotion stirs inside, one expresses it in words;
words being inadequate, one sighs over it;
sighs being inadequate, one sings it in poetry;
poetry being inadequate, one unconsciously dances with his hands and stamps his feet.”

詩經 Book of Odes


“The purpose of nets is to catch fish. When the fish are caught, the nets are forgotten. The purpose of rabbit snares is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snares are forgotten. The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten.

Where is the man who has forgotten all words? He is the one I would like to speak with.”

— Chuang Tzu

A Universal History of Iniquity

A Universal History of Iniquity (1935)


Preface to the First Edition

The exercises in narrative prose that constitute this book were performed from 1933 to 1934. They are derived, I think, from my rereadings of Stevenson and Chesterton, from the first films of von Sternberg, and perhaps from a particular biography of the Argentine poet Evaristo Carriego. Certain techniques are overused: mismatched lists, abrupt transitions, the reduction of a person’s entire life to two or three scenes. (It is this pictorial intention that also governs the story called “Man on Pink Corner.”) The stories are not, nor do they attempt to be, psychological.

With regards to the examples of magic that close this book, the only right I can claim to them is that of translator and reader. I sometimes think that good readers are poets as singular, and as awesome, as great authors themselves. No one will deny that the pieces attributed to Valery to his pluperfect Monsieur Edmond Teste are worth notoriously less than those of his wife and friends.

Reading, meanwhile, is an activity subsequent to writing — more resigned, more civil, more intellectual.

Buenos Aires
May 27, 1935

Preface to the 1954 Edition

I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self-caricature. In vain did Andrew Lang attempt, in the eighteen-eighties, to imitate Pope’s Odyssey; it was already a parody, and so defeated the parodist’s attempt to exaggerate its tautness. “Baroco” was a term used for one of the modes of syllogistic reasoning; the eighteenth century applied it to certain abuses in seventeenth-century architecture and painting. I would venture to say that the baroque is the final stage in all art, when art flaunts and squanders it resources. The baroque is intellectual, and Bernard Shaw has said that all intellectual labor is inherently humorous. This humor is unintentional in the works of Baltasar Gracian but intentional, even indulged, in the works of John Donne.

The extravagant title of this volume proclaims its baroque nature. Softening its pages would have been equivalent to destroying them; that is why I have preferred, this once, to invoke the biblical words quod scripsi, scripsi (John 19:22), and simply reprint them, twenty years later, as they first appeared. They are the irresponsible sport of a shy sort of man who could not bring himeslf to write short stories, and so amused himself by changing and distorting (sometimes wiithout aesthetic justification) the stories of other men.


The learned doctors of the Great Vehicle teach us that the essential characteristic of the universe is its emptiness. They are certainly correct with respect to the tiny part of the universe that is this book. Gallows and pirates fill its pages, and that word iniquity strikes awe in its title, but under all the storm and lightning, there is nothing. It is all just appearance, a surface of images — which is why readers may, perhaps, enjoy it. The man who made it was a pitiable sort of creature, but he found amusement in writing it; it is to be hoped that some echo of that pleasure may reach its readers.